Book Review – Digital State
By 2020, connected devices will outnumber people sevenfold. In a sheer, aggregate sense, the machines HAVE taken over.
CISCO predicts that by 2016, 78% of all web traffic will be video.
If we accept the accuracy of these predictions, is this good or bad for society and the individual. And what will it mean for business?
Simon Pont, who includes Saatchi and Saatchi and Naked Communications among his previous employers, invited 13 industry thinkers to give their analysis on what the ‘Digital State’ means for us all – and bear in mind we are not talking about decades away. Just take the two predictions at the start of this piece. 2016 is the year after next and 2020 is only four years away.
Pont says that while the Digital State holds a real significance and energy, it was “as a foreign country” where life is remarkably different.
So what do the 13 essays in this book tell us about what this concept really means and also, ‘what is our digital state of mind?’
One clear theme throughout the essays is that each change or new channel enables and speeds others. For example, the existence of YouTube changes how we think about television, so whether or not your latest marketing campaign has a YouTube/Social Media element, you can’t ignore the fact that the world has changed around you.
The key element, says Faris Yakob, is for brands to listen to what people are saying on social media, and then incorporate that into content and behaviour, thus demonstrating an understanding that media is one system of interoperating parts. “There is no social or mobile web. The way in which consumers use the web is social and the way they access it is increasingly mobile.”
In a political essay entitled Utopia/Dystopia – Discuss, by Simon Pont himself, he comments” I certainly believe ‘digital’ is subverting what it is to ‘possess’ , subverting the idea of physical things and ownership.” He gave the example of music, which was once displayed proudly in alphabetised shelves, but which now existed only in an intangible cloud.
In a chapter addressing how the digital state can cure modern marketing, Judd Labarthe says that what really excites him about the Digital State is the emotional intelligence we can observe there. He says the values or principles evolve as the Digital State evolves and although there is a ‘dark side’ made up of lust, envy, loneliness and greed, the Digital State is evolving.
The game is far from settled and that is because, as Robert Wright argues in his book ‘NonZero, the Logic of Human Destiny’, ideas have tended to win out across time and these have helped our civilisation to ‘become more civil’. It will be the same with the digital state.
Bettina Sherick, in her essay ‘Think’ gives a salient piece of advice: “The next time you want to dismiss something new, stop and ask yourself why. Then challenge yourself to be open. Be curious. Be brave. Be digital.”
End of the line for quantitative analysis
Until recently, ‘miles and miles of research used to underpin the statistical significance of any conclusion. But Hans Andersson, in his chapter ‘Everything changes, except me’ says “we can no longer have faith in quantitative demographic information. It doesn’t work in the digital state …. A 2000 year old system has come to a dead end.”
He admits: “If you are in a media agency, you have to protect all your knowledge and all your systems for as long as you possibly can, while you spend nights and weekends trying to find out what on earth to do instead, because every system you have or build now, comes with a built in expiration date.
“If you’re in a research company, instead of hoping for a future of qualitative quick-fix web queries, you might consider hiring a bunch of social anthropologists to help your clients find out not what people say they do in their lives but what they actually do.
“But if like me you work in a creative agency there are no excuses. This is your time. You just have to break the rules. This is the best time since the 1060s,” he effuses.
There is less good news about brands. Malcolm Hunter says the importance of brands is exaggerated and Deloitte enforces this with the claim that 80% of mobile brand apps have fewer than 1000 downloads. Nielson says that just 1% of fans have any active engagement with their brands online and 99.9% of interactive ads do not get clicked on.
There is a 0.00001% chance of a video being viewed on YouTube.
The problem as Hunter sees it, is that we need to change the question round. It is no longer “how can we use technology to get consumers to participate in the brand, but ‘how can we make brands important and interesting to people in their lives? Today the question is: “What role can digital play in establishing importance and engaging interest?”
Digital State is a fascinating book because of its diversity of opinion, although it is fair to say most positions have been covered by the time the reader reaches the last couple of essays.
Pont has done a good job of covering multiple themes while staying true to the original premise of ‘What is the Digital State, and What is our Digital State of Mind?’ and making sure this stays relevant to those concerned with promoting brands and their business.
‘The Digital State -how the internet is changing everything’, written and edited by Simon Pont, is published by KoganPage, price £14.99.